At the end of a long day, Fitch clinches ECC Division I title
East Lyme — And so the season of their lives rolled on Friday night following an unforgettable day in Fitch High School lore and legend.
There was a car accident, near tragedy, bitter cold, an early deficit and yet enough inspiration to keep the magic percolating.
What began with an innocent enough team breakfast turned into a serious car accident for four Fitch players — happily, they survived — who did not play in the season’s biggest game against East Lyme. Then came wind chills cold enough to hang meat on the goalposts, an injury to a key player and surely enough reason for emotions to generate doubt.
Fitch 20, East Lyme 14.
The residual effects?
Fitch (8-0, 3-0) clinched the Eastern Connecticut Conference Division I title, moved closer to a Class L playoff berth, and maybe most importantly discovered that belief and unity can make you tougher than Clorox.
Tyler Nelli ran for 136 yards for the Falcons and threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Tony Figueroa. He also discovered at around 2 p.m. Friday he’d be starting at cornerback (along with Hamear Stephens) because two Fitch corners were involved in the car accident.
“When we got the call about the accident,” Nelli said, “all of our minds were on that. It was hard to focus on anything else. But I think when we got here and we knew everyone was OK, we got focused on the game.”
Fitch coach Mike Ellis: “Well, let’s see. We start with the people at the Shack nice enough to give our kids free breakfast. Then we find out about the car accident. We’re waiting to hear if everyone is OK. We get here and Hollis (Scott, Fitch’s leading rusher) gets hurt. It was amazing what the kids had to overcome.”
That included a 7-0 deficit after East Lyme (5-3, 2-2) used Isaac Tomblin left, right and up the middle to set up Chris Salemme’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Dylan Hatajik in the second period. But when you deal with life and death all day, a 7-0 deficit feels about as stressful as one of those Corona commercials.
Fitch moved to within 7-6 by halftime after Nelli’s scoring pass to Figueroa. The Falcons took a 13-7 lead after Nelli’s 50-yard run early in the third period set up Scott’s 8-yard touchdown.
And then came the game’s biggest play.
With Scott sidelined, Pedro Mojica, normally a linebacker, went 88 yards up the middle to give the Falcons a 20-7 lead.
“A killer,” East Lyme coach Rudy Bagos said.
“It says a lot about our team,” Nelli said. “Hollis goes down and Pedro steps right in.”
Salemme’s 47-yard touchdown run with four minutes left cut it to 20-14, but the Falcons never gave the ball back.
Tomblin had 82 yards rushing for East Lyme.
Nick Helbig led the Fitch defense with three sacks.
“Even when we had the lead, we couldn’t get off the field very well,” Bagos said. “It seemed like Nelli would always make a big play.”
And when Nelli wasn’t, his teammates sure did.
“What a day,” Ellis said. “I’m exhausted.”
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